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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
A different set of Olympics that was even more special
by Randy Pascal

With NHLers out of the mix for the recent 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, it was already a given, going in, that the hockey experience would be different than the handful of Games that preceded the tournament in South Korea.

On a more personal level, however, this difference was a relatively minor one in looking at the contrasting journeys that I enjoyed in both Vancouver (2010) and Gangneug (2018).

As I have noted before, in terms of a singular highlight, it was unlikely anything I would witness over the course of the past three weeks could go toe to toe with the thrill of being selected to work the men’s gold medal game some eight years ago. The fact that this particular contest generated a gold medal winning goal whose stories will be told long after my days on this earth are done only served to add to that incredible memory.

In virtually every other aspect, however, the entire story of my Asian adventure far surpassed the Winter Games hosted on Canadian soil in 2010. Part of this truth was somewhat pre-ordained, if only from the fact that the most recent episode would see my involvement generated as a guest of the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation), versus the role of a Games volunteer, as was the case in Vancouver.

The added bonus of being treated in a first class manner by the IIHF, in every single sense of the word, provided an element for which I will forever be grateful. That trend started early, not only through the impeccable attention to the details of our travel arrangements, with contact Marjut Makela ensuring that every step of the journey was carefully planned and orchestrated, on to our unexpected invitation to the Opening Ceremonies in Pyeongchang.

Throw in seating arrangements that would find our ITO (International Technical Officials) group benefitting from the same general location, more or less, as members of the Canadian Olympic Committee, not to mention the red carpet reception that would greet our arrival, and the tone for this 17 day whirlwind tour was clearly established.

The special treatment went so far beyond just that opening impression. From continual outfitting that would eventually require me to purchase a second set of luggage during my stay, to breakfast, lunch and dinner arrangements that went so far beyond our wildest expectations, there simply is not enough that I could say, in terms of thanks alone, to the IIHF family with whom I worked so closely during my time half a world away.

Notwithstanding the difference in on-ice talent noted above, my personal hockey experience contrast was largely one of scale. Where six scorekeepers were assigned to work the Vancouver Games, there were but two of us, both Canadians, handling the same duties in these most recent Olympics. As much as I love my hockey, working some 26 games or so in a span of 11 days is quite exhausting when mixed in with the need to overcome jetlag and the inevitable cold that worked its way through our group.

There was many a day when the hours rolled along in much the same way as any one of the dozens of different tournaments I have worked over the course of the past four decades in Sudbury. Leaving our hotel on a 9:45 a.m. shuttle and returning just after the stroke of midnight made for some very long days.

Having to work that many games, however, also provided one of my greatest sources of pride from my time in South Korea. The IIHF contact (Blair Landry) who initially reached out to me in October of 2017, a gentleman with whom I worked closely in Vancouver, found himself situated for these most recent Games at the Gangneug Hockey Center.

I, on the other hand, was given the responsibility of handling scorekeeping for all of the contests featured at Kwandong Arena. This would mean working with a completely new set of IIHF officials, a fascinating international potpourri that included a lead organizer from Belarus, Orion data operators from Sweden and Slovakia respectively, key OVR (On Venue Results) intermediaries from Finland and Switzerland, and the obvious boatload of South Korean volunteers, including my Olympic “shadow” Honsel, a young lady who is now entrusted with fulfilling those same scorekeeping duties for the upcoming Paralympics and sledge hockey.

Notified very early that my key skill-set of being able to identify goal scorers, assists and penalties from the penalty box area with speed and efficiency was crucial, I cannot stress how rewarding it was to be told that key personnel would be using my call, first and foremost, ahead of the spotters bench upstairs, a procedure that is exactly the opposite as one would see in virtually every other high level hockey competition.

Having Constance Leschenko, the Belarusian lead administrator and IIHF staffer for roughly the past decade or so, introduce me within days of meeting each other as the very best scorekeeper that she had ever worked with not only solidified my own belief in my ability to live up to the impressive standards that were set, but I think also helped provide a great endorsement to those folks within the IIHF who went to bat on the need to bring over highly experienced Canadian hockey help in order to ensure the smooth operation of the venues.

So many of my memories involved the folks with whom I shared my life for much of February of 2018. The “Russian Five”, a group that officially included two Russians, two Ukrainians and a Belarussian, all of whom worked the stats bench in Sochi, and all of whom are the best Opening Ceremonies bartenders anyone could every ask for.

The “San Jose” announcers connections, Dan and Steve, who work the Sharks games through most winters but took of their time to join us in South Korea. Matt McCooey, a fellow Ontarian and source of great help in his role as lead hand with the Olympic Broadcasting Services.

Different names, perhaps, different venues, eight years apart, but truly special experiences, nonetheless – experiences which I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to enjoy twice in a lifetime.

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